MCNs need to find their hook
By Kate Bulkley
For Broadcast November 28, 2013
Standing out is key, whether in LA or Grimsby, says Kate Bulkley
I’ve never been to Grimsby (not a normal way to start a TV business column, I grant you) but I do seem to be spending a lot of time on multi-channel networks (MCNs) recently.
Why are the two linked? Well, the TV industry has many destinations these days, and all of them are fighting for our attention. The fishing port of Grimsby in Lincolnshire is, of course, the site for this week’s launch of the UK’s first local-TV licensee.
It is called Estuary TV and has actually been available on Virgin Media’s cable system for the past 15 years, giving it a built-in audience and significantly improving its prospects. The big question for all the local TV stations is the economics.
It helps that the usual rules of TV advertising have been suspended, so these channels can put in spots and sponsorships to their heart’s content. Plus, I think local news/events/coverage is something that audiences do want.
But the bigger question for me is whether these audiences want it packaged in a linear TV channel. If you lived in Grimsby and were able to enjoy bundles of local TV news, why would you visit the web? Yahoo! thinks it has the answer.
This week it announced it had hired Katie Couric (pictured), the former ABC, CBS, NBC (let’s face it, she’s worked on every major US TV news desk) as its first “global anchor”. Yahoo!, like a lot of other online sites, is starting to promote tent-pole talent like Couric to drive viewership.
Every network - TV or online - is upping its recognisable faces to drag in the audience from other distractions, be they sites, TV channels or video games. Even print media is adding moving pictures to make it more sexy.
Why else is The Times offeringonline Premier League clips to newspaper subscribers? Plus, The Guardian is increasingly asking reporters to be more multimedia.
Simon Hattenstone’s job, for example, has changed from a traditional print feature writer to producing regular video interviews, like the one I just saw with Daniel Radcliffe. The Guardian also employs the services of multichannel network operator Rightster to add video content - from ITN, for example - to its online site.
It’s all about making the site more lively, more engaging - and more like TV. MCNs are popping up all over the place - most recently, Endemol announced it would put E30m (£25m) into building an MCN, called Endemol Beyond.
Its new president is Will Keenan, who until last week was working at rival MCN Maker Studios, ironically headed since May by former Endemol chief exec Ynon Kreiz. MCNs are the new online versions of niche cable TV channels and they are attracting a lot of attention both online and from investors (though the business model is still a work in progress).
For his part, Keenan says he looks forward to helping Endemol, a traditional TV producer, “disrupt” the digital world. As TV, newspapers and online sites all shuck and jive to capture our attention, the need for a hook of some kind has never been greater. That could be a great piece of content or a recognisable anchor - irrespective of whether you’re based in California or Grimsby.